Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Website re-do

Soon, very soon, my website will have a new look. My wonderful webmaster, also known as my sister, and I are working at a complete makeover. You'll be able to read this blog on the website, watch videos, listen to stories, find out more about what I do, and find out more about storytelling in general. You can listen to stories on the website now, but it's going to be a bit different.

Here's the insider tip: every time you refresh the listen-and-watch page, you'll get a different video and a different audio clip (whole stories only). I'm putting ALL the stories that I've recorded on the site. That's a lot of page refreshing! Yes, I still am selling the recordings on CDbaby.com, filmbaby.com and amazon.com but I also like making them easily available.

Oh, and there are new pictures. Here are a few:
Some of you have seen this on Facebook. It might be my favorite.
I...want...my...appa' juice!

The hair color is a little funny--don't worry, Baby still is more of a redhead than a blonde.
Peeps has come out of his shell.

I'll try to keep the calendar up to date, too. Look for the new site in the next few weeks.

Monday, March 05, 2012

ESL Storytelling

Sometimes I'm a little slow. I recently realized that after having given more than 200 performances and workshops for non-native speaker of English, in Belgium, Brazil, Peru, Mexico, Bulgaria and Germany, as well as at schools in the US where there are many non-native English speakers, I might have a specialty. I have become an ESL storyteller.

Students listening to me at a school in Brazil in 2008
Let me be clear about a few things:

I'm not a bilingual storyteller. Well, I am, in a way--sometimes I'll tell stories in French and occasionally in Bulgarian, but when I go into ESL classes, I'm there to speak English.

I'm not a teacher of English as a Second Language. I'm a storyteller.

I am a storyteller who goes into settings where students don't speak English as their mother tongue. Here's how I make this most effective:

I speak distinctly and clearly.
I use lots of synonyms.
I use my facial expressions and body language to buttress the spoken language.
My choice of stories includes lots of repetition and universal humor.
No puns or wordplay.
With younger kids, my puppets do a little pre-teaching. For example, when I introduce Robert Munsch's brilliant story Stephanie's Ponytail, I point out some of the girls who have ponytails and some who don't in the audience. Then I show the audience the ponytail on my puppet.
Stephanie and her ponytail
Also with younger kids, I include fingerplays and songs. Some of these involve the whole body. No matter the language, some of us are kinesthetic learners, taking information in through our bodies.

Primary school students in Mexico, 2009
The fact that I understand a lot of Spanish helps with groups where that is the predominant language--for example, if kids say "Una bruja!" when they see my puppet Trixie I then can say in English, "Yes, she looks like a witch but she's not one, she's just very old. She's one hundred and eleven years old."

With older kids, I often explain an unusual word or two before I begin. For example, I tell the Bluebeard variant "Mr. Fox" to older kids. Within that story, there's a refrain that includes the word "bold." Most students don't know that this means courageous, so I tell them in advance. If I don't, I risk losing their attention--they'll stop listening to try to puzzle out that word.

After a story for older audiences (age 10 and up), I pause for about ten seconds so the students can explain to each other the parts they were unclear on within the stories. I'll also answer specific questions about the stories.

At the end of the session, as I like to do with audiences who are native English speakers, I invite the students older than about age 8 to ask questions about stories, storytelling, puppets or about me.

My goal is to provide a language-rich, story-rich, laughter-rich experience to extend the students' knowledge of English. Oh, and there's that other goal, the one I have for every performance, residency or workshop: that we all have fun.